What Constitutes Harassment in the Workplace Under California Law

Workplace harassment is a pervasive problem that can dramatically impact a person’s wellbeing, morale, productivity, and overall workplace environment. Fortunately, California’s robust employment laws provide a broad framework to define and penalize such behavior and employment lawyers can help you to navigate those laws. This article explores what constitutes harassment in the workplace under California law, examining legal definitions, specific behaviors that can be considered harassment, and measures for preventing and addressing it.

What is the Legal Definition of Harassment?

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) broadly defines harassment as any unwelcome verbal, physical, or visual conduct that creates an offensive, hostile, or intimidating work environment. It goes beyond the actions of direct employers to include clients, customers, and other business associates. An experienced workplace harassment lawyer can help you decide if it is worth pursuing a case against your employer for workplace harassment.

FEHA particularly emphasizes harassment based on an individual’s protected characteristics, which include race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, military and veteran status, and sexual orientation.

What are some examples of Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment can take various forms, and it’s important to understand that it’s not confined to overtly abusive behavior. Here are some examples:

  • Verbal Harassment

This includes derogatory comments, offensive jokes, slurs, or name-calling targeting a person’s protected status. It can also involve threats, intimidating language, or spreading malicious rumors.

  • Physical Harassment

Unwanted physical contact, from touching and patting to more explicit forms of physical violence or threats, falls under this category. Blocking someone’s path or physical interference with normal work or movement can also qualify.

  • Visual Harassment

Visual harassment includes displaying offensive posters, cartoons, or drawings related to a person’s protected status. Inappropriate gestures or making derogatory expressions can also be considered visual harassment.

  • Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a particularly damaging form of harassment and can involve unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

What are the Legal Recourses for Victims of Harassment

If you’re a victim of harassment, the first step may be to inform the harasser that their behavior is unwelcome and should stop, if you feel comfortable doing so. Next, notify your employer, ideally in writing, following the procedure outlined in your company’s anti-harassment policy or employee handbook.

Should your employer fail to address the issue appropriately, you can file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD), which enforces the FEHA, or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They investigate the complaints, can mediate disputes, and if necessary, can file lawsuits against employers.

Employer Prevention is Key

While there are legal remedies available, employer prevention may be an extremely effective cure for workplace harassment. Employers can take proactive steps such as developing and enforcing an anti-harassment policy, providing regular training to employees and supervisors, and taking immediate action upon receiving a complaint.

In conclusion, harassment in the workplace under California law is broadly defined and strictly penalized. Understanding what constitutes harassment is the first step to combating it. Should you face such a situation, do not hesitate to stand up for your rights and seek help from experienced workplace harassment lawyers like the team at Stalwart Law Group.


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